March Madness in Kansas

Ahearn Fieldhouse 1950s

Ahearn Fieldhouse was the site of numerous NCAA Tournament games from 1953 to 1969

We’re nearly halfway through March, which means March Madness is upon us. The annual Division I NCAA Tournament is rivaled only by the Superbowl for transcending sports (and sports fans) and becoming an American cultural event relevant to even usual non-fans.

Certainly every sports fan has their favorite moments, opinions, or memories of what the NCAA Tournament means to them. One of my favorite aspects is the truly national nature of it, unique in American sports. Each year the Tournament is contested in over a dozen sites around the country.

Many local college basketball fans might not be aware but since 1953 the state of Kansas has hosted the NCAA Tournament twenty-five times. In fact, in the 29 Tournaments from 1953 to 1981 the Sunflower State hosted the NCAAs 22 years, twice at two sites simultaneously and even had a run of fourteen Tournaments in a row from 1958 to 1971. As one would expect, the local schools have piled up a considerable amount of NCAA Tournament success instate.

Then as now, newer larger arenas tended to get awarded Tournament games. It all began in 1953 with Kansas State’s Ahearn Fieldhouse. Ahearn was just two years old and with a capacity over 12,000 was one of the larger arenas in the country. That year the B.H. Born-led Kansas Jayhawks began the tradition of Sunflower State NCAA Tournament games appropriately, winning the 1953 Midwest Regional in Manhattan before eventually losing 69-68 to Indiana in the NCAA Finals.  

Wichita’s Leavitt Arena and the University of Kansas’ brand-new Allen Fieldhouse hosted their first NCAA Tournament games in 1956. Kansas State had a bye and played Oklahoma City in Allen Fieldhouse but lost 97-93. In 1958 however, Kansas State won all its NCAA Tournament games in Allen Fieldhouse and claimed a trip to the Final Four before losing to Seattle. This puts the rival schools in the interesting historical position of having advanced to the Final Four from each other’s home court.

Kansas State upped the ante in 1964, beating Wichita State on the Shockers’ home floor of Leavitt Arena to advance to the 1964 Final Four, K-State’s last to date. This is the only time Kansas teams have played each other in the NCAA Tournament in the state of Kansas. The following year, Wichita State returned the favor a bit by winning the Midwest Regional in Manhattan (against Oklahoma State, not the Wildcats) and were awarded a spot in the 1965 Final Four, the program’s only appearance. Like K-State the previous season, they lost in the semifinals to a burgeoning UCLA program.

There are a few other particular years to note. In the 1960 Midwest Regional finals Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson-led squad ended Kansas’ run with an 82-71 win in Manhattan. Eleven years later the Jayhawks won the 1971 Midwest Regional in Wichita and became the last state team of the era to get mowed down in the national semifinals by the UCLA buzzsaw.

With their respective facilities growing older, Kansas State last hosted an NCAA Tournament game in 1969, and Kansas last hosted the NCAA Tournament in 1979. Wichita’s Kansas Coliseum was a 1994 first round site, and that has been the last time an NCAA Tournament game has been played in the Sunflower State.

  • 1953 (Manhattan)
  • 1955 (Manhattan)
  • 1956 (Wichita, Lawrence)
  • 1958 (Lawrence)
  • 1959 (Lawrence)
  • 1960 (Manhattan)
  • 1961 (Lawrence)
  • 1962 (Manhattan)
  • 1963 (Lawrence)
  • 1964 (Wichita)
  • 1965 (Manhattan)
  • 1966 (Wichita)
  • 1967 (Lawrence)
  • 1968 (Wichita)
  • 1969 (Manhattan)
  • 1970 (Lawrence)
  • 1971 (Wichita)
  • 1973 (Wichita)
  • 1976 (Lawrence)
  • 1978 (Wichita, Lawrence)
  • 1979 (Lawrence)
  • 1981 (Wichita)
  • 1994 (Wichita)